Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween Fun

Halloween has never been my favorite holiday.  In fact, I could easily do without it.  I enjoy decorating for fall, and I refused for a long time to buy Halloween specific decorations.  My fall decorations would suffice until Thanksgiving when I would trade them out for Christmas decorations.  But beginning a few years ago, the kids began asking for Halloween decorations.  You know, witches, ghosts, spiders, etc.  So I have gradually added to my collection, adding a few small items each year.

Recently I have seen so many cute posts on Facebook and Instagram with great ideas to make school lunches seasonally exciting.  And when I was at Walmart last weekend, I walked past their $0.97 bin of Halloween items.  I picked up a few packages and decided I would add it to my kids' school lunches until Halloween, just to change things up a bit. 

The kid really enjoyed seeing what I packed for them each day.  The lunches themselves are not that exciting, but adding some vampire teeth or a snake makes all the difference. 

When I was wondering around Micheal's last week, I saw these cute spider muffin holders (on sale, of course) and thought that would add a little something special to a Halloween breakfast.  We also roasted pumpkin seeds following our annual pumpkin carving which has made for nice afternoon snacks.

We moved into a new house this fall, and we have already made great friends with the neighbors.  In fact, we got "Boo'ed" last night.  I'm pretty sure this usually involves candy rather than toys, but our super thoughtful neighbors included lots of fun trinkets for each one of my kids.  What a fun tradition!

Tomorrow we will go Trick-or-Treating, and we will gets lots and lots of candy.  But we hope to also see several teal pumpkins, and we will be sure to stop at those houses for non-food treats.  Once we have collected a mountain of candy, we will take it to our kids' dentist office for their annual candy trade-in.  For each scoop of candy, they earn a raffle ticket.  They can then choose which raffle items they use their ticket for.  And there are some pretty good prizes to be won.  The dentist office will send all the candy overseas to our troops.  It's a win-win!  The kids know they are collecting candy for the soldiers, and they get a chance to win some pretty great prizes.

Hopefully the weather will cooperate and won't be too cold.  It's no fun to cover up the costumes with warm coats.  But I'm sure we will have fun no matter what.   

GirlyGirl Turns 8!

What?!?  How can she be 8 already?  These kids just keep growing up.  And there's nothing I can do to stop it!

For each birthday, we usually end up having three parties.  One with family, one with friends, and one with our immediate family on their actual birthday.  That's a lot of food and cake to prepare.

For our family gathering, we grilled burgers, had pasta salad, fries (including Ian's Alphatots), and strawberries.  We ended the meal with Namaste brownies made with egg replacer to keep them Top 8 Free and So Delicious ice cream.  As many of you know, my nephew and niece also have food allergies, and my sister-in-law avoids gluten, so we make sure there is food that is safe for everyone when we get together.
Food safe for all at our family gathering

Top 8 Free brownies and ice cream for our family celebration

Each year on the kids' actual birthday, the birthday child gets to choose what is served for dinner.  GirlyGirl had decided weeks in advance that we would have Taco Casserole, corn on the cob, and watermelon.  Easy enough!  She also told me that she didn't want just cupcakes for her birthday but an awesome cake.  I fear that I may have set the bar too high as the past two years have been a Barbie cake and a castle cake.  I did a little searching for inspiration on the Wilton website and decided to make a double layer round cake with cupcakes on top.  Of course, this was free of peanuts, dairy, and artificial colors.  (I find it difficult to make fun cakes/sweets without using artificial colors, but really the only thing affected is the appearance.  It still tastes amazing.)

Free of peanuts, dairy, and artificial colors

This year GirlyGirl decided to have a slumber party to celebrate her birthday with her friends.  This sounded good to me.  I always like having parties in the controlled food environment of my home.  She had 5 friends come over after school on a Friday evening, eat dinner, play, sing, and dance, and of course, eat cake.

For her party, I thought pizza would be an easy way to go, and I figured all the kids would enjoy it.  I heated up a Daiya frozen pizza for Bubs and GirlyGirl, and the rest of the crew just had Totinos frozen pizzas.  We explained to the girls the importance of why we wash hands after eating anything, and they all complied without complaint.  Along with the pizza we served green peppers and fruit ropes.  I also had strawberry and lemon infused water for them to drink.  It was quite yummy.

Ready to party!

Out of the 6 girls at the party (including GirlyGirl), three of them have a peanut allergy.  That's 50% of the party-goers!  The other 2 girls didn't have EpiPens, and one of the moms casually mentioned that she has a nut allergy when she dropped her off.  Luckily, I am well-versed in nut allergies.  (I am surprised at the lax approach of these other families dealing with food allergies, but everyone handles it differently.)  One of the girls said she didn't know any other kids at school who were allergic to peanuts, and we talked about how nice it is to know you are not alone.  She was grateful to know that there are others who deal with food allergies like she does.

For GirlyGirl's party cake, I intended to make it look like wrapped gifts.  It's not quite the vision I started with, but it turned out cute nonetheless.

Free of peanuts, dairy, and artificial colors

Make a wish!

She had a great evening with good friends.  They stayed up too late and were too loud, but that's what it's all about!  Good food, good friends, and good memories!

Me and my favorite 8 year old!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Instant Bonds at FABlogCon 2014

I had the honor of attending the second annual Food Allergy Bloggers Conference (FABlogCon) in Las Vegas this fall.

Before leaving for Vegas, one of my coworkers asked why I was so excited to go to this bloggers conference.  How do you describe the feeling of being surrounded by people who just "get you?"  Without much introduction, you know that these people share the same struggles, fears, hope, and excitement. These people want to hear your story, details about how you manage small tasks on a day to day basis. These people don't feel sorry for you but understand you.  These people share your feelings of anxiety and your relief/heartbreak/anguish for each allergist visit, each birthday party, each day at school.  These people want to talk about what you make for your kids' school lunches.  How you pack for vacation.  Where you shop.  The brands you love.  

Being at FABlogCon was like being with old friends.  These are people who follow each other online and read each others posts daily.  We watch each others kids grow.  We smile with small victories and are saddened by food allergy-related tragedies, all through a computer screen.  This is a chance to actually touch, hug, and laugh with these dear friends of ours.  To hear their voices and see their faces.  There is an instant connection when you meet another food allergy family, and an unspoken bond is instantly formed.  I feel this when I meet one person/family locally, but to be in a room full of these people was extraordinary!  Beyond words.

Beginning top left moving clockwise: Heather McGrath (Blue Bear Aware) and Selena Bluntzer (Amazing and Atopic); KeelyMcGuire; Emily Cunningham (Allergen Menu Mom); Selena Bluntzer

In addition to the personal joy of sitting at a table with these great friends, we got to learn so much through informational booths as well as educational seminars.  We got to hear the amazing Dr. Ruchi Gupta speak (and we got to see a fun little video) as well as learn about hope for the future from the one and only Dr. Xiu-Min Li.  She is making amazing strides at finding a cure for food allergies, and the living proof was right in that room.  We also had the opportunity to visit with owners/reps from our favorites companies giving us a chance to learn more about them and also allowing us to give feedback to them.  It's pretty amazing to get to know the people behind the brands.

Henry Ehrlich introducing Dr. Gupta and Dr. Li

We also got to meet and hear from prominent advocates in the food allergy community which was quite inspiring.  These are mostly just moms like you and me who had to fight to keep their child(ren) safe.  As time went on, their voice got louder drawing in a larger audience, making their advocacy stronger.  These are the people we need to thank for all the change that is happening in our community.  Also present were big names like singer Kyle Dine (we love his food allergy songs) and spokesperson Jerome Bettis.

Me and Kyle Dine; Me and Jerome Bettis

Our local FARE walk was the same weekend I was in Vegas, but luckily the rest of my family was able to participate.  As many of you know, not only do two of my kids have food allergies, but so do my nephew and niece, both from different parents.  My husband and both of his sisters have children with food allergies.  This food allergy bit is a family affair!  The silver lining of that is that there is always safe food at family get togethers, and we all "get it."  I really feel for those families who struggle with having family members who don't "get it," and they battle with keeping their child safe around family (the one place they should feel safe).  Not everyone is as fortunate as we are, and that can be really difficult to deal with.
SuperSafe AllerKids 2014 FARE Food Allergy Walk (4 of the 5 children pictured here have life-threatening food allergies)

We didn't have much down time at FABlogCon, as this was an event-packed conference.  But arriving a little early allowed me to take a scenic tour hosted by Homa Woodrum's husband, Adam, along with Heather McGrath (Blue Bear Aware), Brynn Hadler (Allergy Bytes), and Tiffany Glass Ferreria (Food Allergy Fun).  We had the pleasure of seeing Las Vegas' Red Rock Canyon.  What a beautiful view!

Enjoying Las Vegas with wonderful friends

We also got to spend a little time on the strip.  I was joined by Justin (YoDish) and Emily (Allergen Menu Mom) Cunningham, Tiffany Glass Ferreira, and Selena Bluntzer (Amazing and Atopic) as we ventured to The Venetian.  And the evening ended perfectly watching the fountains dance at the Bellagio with Selena Bluntzer and Homa Woodrum (Oh Mah Deehness).  What a wonderful way to end a wonderful weekend!

Pumpkin Seeds

We have a family tradition of going to the pumpkin patch each year and picking out pumpkins for carving. This year the weather was too wet so the selection of pumpkins was not very good. Most of them were rotten.  We picked out a few good ones for decoration on our front porch, then later I picked up a few pumpkins for carving at Walmart. 

Once the pumpkins were gutted and carved, we took the seeds, rinsed them off, and roasted them for snacking on throughout the week. It is super easy to do. The hardest part is getting the guts off the seeds. 

Once the seeds are rinsed, spread them out on a cookie sheet or pan, spritz with a little oil, and season with your choice of seasonings. Sometimes all I use is a little salt, but this year I used seasoned salt for a little extra zing. They were delicious!  Once they are seasoned, roast them in the oven at 300ยบ for about 45 minutes. Our batch never lasts more than a couple of days, but we keep them stored in an airtight container.  Enjoy!